How to Change the Culture of Organization

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In modern organizations, culture plays a role of glue which helps managers and employees to communicate and create positive climate and morale. Coming to know the culture of organizations evokes the personal meaning, experience, and perception of organizational life in the minds of individual members. Gaining access to members’ organizational experience helps researchers better understand individual and collective motives that govern their behavior and enables managers to distinguish otherwise similar organizations from one another. Organizational culture defines who employees all are in a group and who managers and leaders can be as members of groups (role identity). This includes the network of repeated interpersonal strategies for coping with (defending against) interpersonal and organizational events that are stressful and perceived as threatening.

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Organizational Culture Defined

Organizational culture is understood by analyzing transference of emotions, vertically between manager and subordinates and horizontally among organizational members during group and interpersonal responses to critical incidents. To appreciate fully the contribution of organizational identity to understanding of organizational culture, three patterns of transference (and countertransference) in organizations need to be examined: (1) mirroring and idealizing, (2) twinship (alterego), and (3) persecutory. Following Schein (1996): “the culture of a group can now be defined as a pattern of shared basic assumptions that the group learned as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration” (12).

Literature Review

The main layer of literature states that organizational culture can be changed by managers and leaders who introduce new values and organizational principles. Clegg et al (56) admit that participation is thus at the core of change. There is no single best solution to any particular problem across different organizations. As the goals, processes, and characteristics of each organization and its members vary, the principle of self-design implies that the best solution is the one invented by the people who have to live with the consequences of that solution. Drummond (88) and Eagleton (72) underline that as external consultants, managers, technical planners, trainers, or union representatives, managers can provide expertise in the coordination and facilitation of change processes. Keyton (87) explains that organizational culture is the outcome of a collective compromise formation and analysis of transference between and among organizational members, and compromise formation and transference are the key to understanding these phenomena. At this point, managers need to examine the various patterns of transference, such as mirroring and idealizing and persecutory self and other relations.

Macmillian and Tampoe (82) underline that the relevant factor in cultural change is the degree of flexibility versus rigidity among organizational members. The more extreme and rigid transferences become, the greater is the tendency for ritualistic organizational defenses to dominate performance and shut down organizational learning. In the case of transference, acknowledgment of differences must be combined with awareness of similarities and likeness. Kurt Lewin proposes a three stage model to change culture and introduce new values and principles. What is of importance is the interaction of the learning loops of individual members of the system. To understand this managers can refer to the most famous model of change in cultural storehouse, Kurt Lewin’s social change model of unfreeze, move, and freeze (Cameron and Green 112).

Change Model

The proposed change model for organizational culture is based on Kurt Lewin’s change and involves three stages. This model consists of three stages, unfreezing, change and refreezing (Cameron and Green 112). During the unfreeze or open phase, some event or stimulus creates a sense of dissatisfaction with the existing patterns of doing things in the system and creates an impetus to change. When this happens it stimulates movement in the cultural loops of individual members of the system. They may begin to look at things differently; they may start to question why things “have always been done this way,” and imagine something different than what is “normal” in their social system. They may begin to recognize in themselves and in others some initial motivation to change. However, at this point people only begin to think differently, while they still behave as usual. In addition, nothing guarantees that they will arrive at similar conclusions about either what should be changed or how to do it. They may in fact have very different opinions, and a great deal of conflict may develop as people search for new patterns of system behavior. Whether the initial impetus to change will result in a new level of improved system performance or a process of disintegration and frustration depends heavily on the patterns of communication, influence, and access to resources of the system (Brass and Riggio 31).

The move phase is characterized by behavioral change in a social system. Behavioral change is to be interpreted in its most general sense: In work systems — the area of interest here — it means that certain measures are taken; for example, new ways of organizing work tasks are tried, the range and scope of activities are expanded, new leadership structures are experimented with, new technologies are introduced, and so forth. Again, this requires that a variety of cultural loops occur in the individuals involved. Only then it is possible to coordinate the required individual learning processes and to enable individuals to change their behavior in similar directions. At this point the change itself is still an experiment, and errors are likely to occur. To reduce mistakes and to limit the risk of the experiment, somebody might deliberately focus on the coordination of these individual learning processes. In this case managers may speak of a “planned change process” (Palmer and Hardy 87). Even if the change processes are not deliberately planned or guided, the three phases are likely to occur. In this case, individuals themselves will strive to regulate and mutually correct the loops and adapt them to each other during the move phase. Much of this is likely to occur in a conscious process, as interpersonal communication necessitates conscious reflection. This is the period of most intense learning as people participate in new activities (Pfeffer 65).

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In the freeze or consolidation phase the degree of conscious reflection on one’s own behavior and learning processes in relationship to this particular behavior is likely to decrease again within the social system. The new behavior loses its novel character; it becomes the new state of “normal” or routine. One starts to identify the positive aspects of the “new situation” and to enjoy it. Managers can assume that fewer demands are placed on individual loops during this phase. The behavior required to achieve the goals of the social system becomes well coordinated and commonplace, and the occurring loops relate either to other content areas or to the coordination and long-term stabilization of new communication and cooperation patterns (requiring, by the way, a lot of individual learning processes). This seemingly undisturbed balance, defined by Lewin as “quasi-stationary” equilibrium, lasts until a change in conditions within or outside the system initiates a new unfreeze or open process (Cameron and Green 112). The consolidation phase involves an additional problem. A variety of proven methods exist to initiate the open phase. And the move phase poses no particular methodological problems either, at least not if the process has been planned and implemented in a participatory format (Clegg et al 82). The consolidation or integration phase, on the other hand, has to rely on locally “invented” specific means, appropriate to the change goals and the participants involved. Years of research have demonstrated that specific solutions have to be self-designed by the people who will enact them. Canned or prepackaged solutions seldom succeed. This requires an in-depth understanding of what might be required to consolidate the new situation. Once again, the participants are likely to know best what needs to be done (Sass 195).

Barriers to Change

The barriers emerge from the concern that employee participation may eliminate the privileges of some groups in the organization. Many supervisors fear the loss of control and decision-making power. They are worried that employee participation means less decision-making latitude and influence for them. Employee participation, however, is intended to open up new domains of responsibility and decision-making for supervisors as they are freed, for example, from certain tasks that the work group can take on. Other obstacles are related to the discomfort of having to give up cherished old habits. Much of the resistance is rooted in the history of previous attempts to involve employees (Schein 63). Perceptions and expectations are strongly influenced by experiences of success or failure. The structure of the organization presents an additional set of barriers. An ingrained piece rate system can present an insurmountable obstacle to employees’ desire to rotate activities and work on different tasks. Other difficulties may result from an elaborate seniority system or great variation in existing skill and competence levels (Tannenbaum 19).

Critics admit that involving employees in innovation processes presents two basic difficulties. The first problem is to demonstrate to employees that they stand to benefit from cooperating in the process. The prospect of participation in planning and decision-making may arouse fears and possibly resistance among employees new to this process, based on their previous experience that workplace changes are frequently accompanied by deskilling and the elimination of jobs. They know that too often they bear the negative consequences of “work improvement” projects. In addition, many employees have found that management has failed to act on their input and suggestions for improvements in the past. These types of experiences do not provide positive reinforcement for continuing to participate (Cameron and Green 114).

Strategic Interventions

Strategic interventions have to be guided by a clear understanding of the organization’s mission and purpose. Such a mission statement, based on explicit values, provides the basis for analyzing organizational strengths and weaknesses in light of environmental threats and opportunities. The analysis of these opportunities and threats as related to each of the three areas of change, needs to be more specific than the above general discussion of trends. By carefully assessing these factors, one can formulate specific strategic as well as tactical objectives and identify the innovations required to achieve these goals. Innovation here is defined as any kind of future-oriented and mission-based strategic change, including product, process, and structural organizational change. In the context of the continuously evolving requirements of occupational competence development, successful organizations will share rationalization and productivity gains with employees in a win-win situation. For example, time at work may involve fewer hours spent on task completion and more hours allocated to continuing education and learning (Schein 19).

Unfortunately, the design of the organizational process itself is mostly undervalued and insufficiently understood. Training and competence development are often treated as issues of secondary importance. As a result, training and development budgets are often the first to be cut when cash flow problems arise. Successful integrative rationalization and innovation will depend on the degree to which employee competence is being developed on a timely, adequate, and continuing basis. Integrative rationalization and organizational innovations are likely to fail in static organizations and structures that inhibit workforce skill utilization and further development after an initial training period (Schein 21).

Following Robbins (24) the development of a “competent” organization involves much more than narrow skill training of the existing workforce or the recruitment of new employees able to meet these competence requirements. Much of the knowledge and many of the skills required at the four levels outlined above are best acquired within the organization. A complementary human resource policy would determine medium- and long-range competence development profiles, and assess employees’ qualification potential in light of these requirements. Personnel recruitment then becomes an internal as well as an external function. Employees already part of the organization are “recruited” and encouraged to take on new tasks, with training, education, and work design matching the goals of continuous competence development. This requires an organizational philosophy with a developmental and learning orientation that is convincingly communicated externally as well as internally (Othman and Abdullah 62). Stressful organizational events such as change in leadership, retrenchment, cutbacks, policy or budgetary revisions, and shifts of political climate can foster psychologically regressive and defensive responses among members. These responses take the form of transference and relational patterns between and among participants. Reactions to stress are highly individual but, inevitably, are worked through at the interpersonal, group, and organizational levels of experience.

Despite recent alterations in organization design, most organizations are hierarchies. In fact, hierarchically channeled human interactions encourage mirroring and idealizing exchanges between superordinates and subordinates. The power of high position may exaggerate individual demands for admiration and feelings of grandiosity. The presence of hierarchies may perpetuate selecting and rewarding individuals with narcissistic proclivities, thereby indulging quests for power and authority by way of positions of public visibility and official importance. Similarly, executives may come to rely on their staff to mirror their larger-than-life view of themselves. Consequently, staff are unconsciously required to idealize the boss, to inflate his or her public image and sustain his or her self-worth. A mirroring and idealizing transference between leader and followers can, consequently, mold or reinforce the preexisting authoritarian culture of organization. Institutional values, myths, ideologies, and other components of organizational culture are selected and rearranged to reflect narcissistically driven authority relations. Such idealization of organizational leadership produces a culture of organizational perfectionism in which the detection and correction of errors are unlikely. Governed by narcissistic values of grandiosity at the top, these organizations encourage the denial of human imperfections: the “system” comes to be viewed as flawless and ideal (Foster-Fishman and Keys 345).

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In such instances, organizational subordinates become preoccupied with meeting the confirmation needs of managers. The childhood parallel of this is found among young children who must respond to their parents’ narcissistic needs in the inadequate holding environment, the origins of what Robbins (27) calls a false self. In adulthood, this sort of role conformity is indicative of human interactions in organizational hierarchies where managers unwittingly perpetuate inauthentic behavior among workers. The organizational costs of this false self-system are great. In particular, organizational members become preoccupied with saving face and camouflage. Consequently, problems are ignored and errors are not detected. Few workers are willing to risk losing the organizational mask that conceals human imperfections. For example, the manager takes on the leadership role with extraordinary needs for acceptance and recognition from earlier deprivations. Subordinates respond with admiration and praise, or they are eliminated or marginalized as undesirables. Managers unwittingly seek out staff members with needs for merging with perceived greatness, strength, and calmness–a merger relationship that will satisfy their (subordinates’) hunger for idealization. In this instance, organizational identity is predicated on a mirror-hungry leadership style. Managers unconsciously require staff who are in search of some form of omnipotent authority (Foster-Fishman and Keys 345).


Change in organizational culture means leaders and peers who have common interests, values, and goals; on the psychological level, it means organizations dominated by patterns of transference in which organizational participants look to each other as mentors. The desire to merge with the sameness of the other is the overarching theme of this organization’s adaptive response to its environment. Identification with peers, similarly trained and educated, may momentarily boost self-esteem with collective reassurances of the importance and superiority of the like-minded member’s contribution to the organization. Institutional reinforcement of a member’s false self-system is harmful to both individual and organization.

Works Cite

Brass Bernard. Riggio Ronald. Transformational Leadership; Routledge, 2006.

Cameron, Esther, Green, Mike. Making Sense of Change Management: A Complete Guide to the Models, Tools & Techniques of Organizational Change. Kogan Page, 2004.

Clegg, Stewart. Kornberger, Martin and Pitsis, Tyrone. Managing and Organizations London: Sage, 2005.

Drummond Helga. Introduction to Organizational Behaviour; Oxford University Press, 2000

Eagleton Terry. The Idea of Culture; Blackwell Pub, 2000,

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Foster-Fishman, Paul, Keys, Charles. B. The Person/environment Dynamics of Employee Empowerment: An Organizational Culture Analysis. American Journal of Community Psychology 25 (1997), 345.

Keyton Joanne. Communication and Organizational Culture; Sage Pub, 2004.

Macmillian, Hugh. and Tampoe, Mahen. Strategic Management Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Othman Abdul Ghani. and Abdullah Badawi. The Influence Of Leadership On Organizational Culture And Its Effects On Knowledge Management Initiative, 2007.

Robbins, Stephen,. Organizational Behavior. Prentice Hall. 11 Ed, 2004.

Palmer, Ian. and Hardy, Currie. Thinking about management London: Sage Pettigrew, 2000.

Pfeffer Jeffrey, Managing with power: politics and influence in organization Boston: Harvard business School press, 1992.

Sass, Joanne.S. Characterizing Organizational Spirituality: An Organizational Communication Culture Approach. Communication Studies 51 (2004), 195.

Schein, Edgar. H. Organizational Culture and Leadership. Second Ed. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 1992.

Tannenbaum, Allen. Organizational Values and Leadership. The Public Manager, 32 (2003), 19.

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